Expert Interview With Hope Herron, Resilient Infrastructure Expert
Hope Herron has been an environmental specialist and climate resilience expert with Tetra Tech for more than 10 years. She develops strategic, sustainable, resilient, and socio-economic solutions to global development challenges. Hope uses her knowledge to improve livelihoods, mitigate climate change impacts, and increase transparency for sustainable supply chains—from creating climate change assessment tools in the Caribbean to incorporating environmental considerations into road and bridge design in South Sudan.
Hope focuses on the nexus of climate change impact assessment, environmental mitigation and adaptation planning, and strategic communications and outreach. She has extensive experience promoting public participation in environmental development projects, including facilitating stakeholder engagement and developing public outreach strategies. In the last five years, Hope has shared her climate change assessments and adaptation planning expertise with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), the U.S. Agency for International Development, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Hope holds masters’ degrees in natural resource studies from the University of Queensland, Brisbane, and international communication from American University, and a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Southern Mississippi.
How is climate change increasing risks for urban development?
As the world’s climate is changing rapidly, we can’t count on past experiences as a reliable indicator for the future. Today’s cities need to be designed to be resilient in the face of a more uncertain future. Globally, we are on a path that is warmer and with rising sea levels, resulting in more extreme precipitation events and longer dry spells. Populations are at risk from various stressors including impacts from natural hazards, environmental pollution, natural resource scarcity, and threats to economic and social well-being. At the same time, urbanization is occurring at a massive scale, with estimates showing that 70 percent of the world’s population will be urban by 2050. Many of these cities are located along rivers or coastlines, leaving a greater concentration of people exposed to natural hazards such as hurricanes. As we account for these risk factors, we must identify vulnerabilities and develop appropriate risk management strategies.
How do you manage environmental and social risks in a changing climate?
In my experience, you first have to develop an understanding of the risks that could affect the sustainability of the city, program, or project. This means identifying vulnerable groups and populations, geographic areas exposed to natural hazards or sensitive environmental habitats, and ecosystem services. Our teams consider current and projected future risks and assess the interrelationship between the environmental and social factors, and the interdependencies between networks and infrastructure.
The identification of resiliency measures is generally done in concert with various stakeholders—from engineers and government officials to community representatives—and specific strategies are developed for each risk. We prioritize strategies based on feasibility, consideration of benefits and costs, and ability to meet community goals. We typically develop visualization tools, like maps and models, to promote the understanding of vulnerabilities, explore interdependencies, and support decision making.
What makes for successful capacity building in the area of resiliency?
Capacity building is at the heart of our development strategies. We use a human-centric approach and tailor our projects for results designed to work for and on behalf of people, from design to project close-out. We use a comprehensive stakeholder engagement approach in the design and implementation of our projects to ensure that the needs and concerns of local stakeholders are identified early on. We incorporate local knowledge and ideas through outreach and engagement activities throughout the project and employ capacity building tools, such as training, mentorship, and learning-by-doing. We believe that the success of our projects relies most heavily on our ability to successfully work with stakeholders to develop locally appropriate solutions, obtain buy-in, build implementation capacity, and educate the next generation.
How do you best optimize client investment for the best outcomes with minimized risk?
The infrastructure being built today is meant to last for decades. However, most infrastructure is designed based on historic standards and practices that are no longer appropriate for today’s climate. It’s far easier and more cost effective to integrate resiliency measures in the planning and design stages than to make the changes after projects have been constructed or implemented. Tetra Tech strives to work closely with our local counterparts to identify resiliency strategies in the early planning phases when sector- and site-specific decisions are being made.
For example, our team has been working with IDB for the past five years on incorporating climate change into disaster risk assessment and management tools. We provided enhanced visualization tools for IDB’s internal disaster and climate change screening analysis, implemented newly processed GIS datasets that visualize the impacts of climate change, and created a subsector sensitivity matrix to identify natural hazards and their potential degree of impact.
The IDB makes additional consideration for projects that are screened as potentially at higher risk to disaster and climate change risk to determine the best plan of action. To support IDB’s project-level risk assessment process, Tetra Tech developed the Decision-making for Climate Change and Integrated Disaster Risk (DECIDIR) methodology. The objective of the methodology is to guide IDB specialists through the investment and project-cycle decision-making process to consider the potential disaster risks to their projects and incorporate the appropriate risk management measures to mitigate those risks.
What does a successful resiliency and climate change project look like?
One example that really stands out to me is the MCC-funded Secondary National Roads Development Project, a major road project that improved communities’ access to markets, trade, healthcare, and schools on the island of Samar in the Philippines. During construction, the road withstood a direct hit of one of the strongest typhoons on record. When Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines, the 12-mile stretch of road that was completed withstood the impact of the typhoon. The remaining road construction was then accelerated as a way to directly support and facilitate other ongoing aid and reconstruction efforts in Samar. The road served as a critical lifeline to food, water, and medicine in the reconstruction process.
Early in the road design and study stage, we recognized the need to incorporate resiliency measures as typhoons hit regularly and are projected to intensify in the future. We incorporated several resiliency measures into the project design, such as improved drainage and culvert capacity, enhanced embankment protection at new bridges, and landslide stabilization measures. The additional costs of the higher design standards with resiliency measures proved to be well worth the investment.